Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Some of you may think I have taken things exceptionally personal about the appeal for the TV License. I started practicing journalism about exactly a decade ago but have not been practising for about half a decade now. That should qualify me considerable as a member of the Ghana Inactive Journalists Association.

This is a surreptitiously averse union which many members are not proud of.  (Mind you, if you are a practising journalist and you are not a registered member of the Ghana Journalist Association (GJA), or your stories have not caught the attention of the GJA to nominate you for an award, you need no membership fee or periodic dues to automatically qualify as a member of the my imaginary and nascent Ghana Inactive Journalist Association).

One thing about the inactive journalist is that, gate-keeping means such as “soli” and editorial scrutiny have no influence of what we write or say, and in seldom cases, think. We may not have the remote control to set the agenda but we can, in our own infinitesimal ways coax or coerce decision: One of them, among the many, is the push for the payment of TV License fees.

I have read the views of many on why Ghanaians must not pay the TV License and reasons associated do not transcend the personal feelings or experience of those against the payment of the TV License.

One of such views that my attention was drawn to were those of Mr. Bright Simons on Facebook. I learn a lot from notable personalities like Bright Simons everyday even though I am yet to meet him in person: I hope one of my occasional visits to Graphic affords me such an opportunity. My unending interest in meeting him has even made me replace my son’s picture with his as my phone’s screen saver.  You can sense my love and admiration for him.

In a Facebook post, Mr. Simons recently stated that the GBC must not benefit a Cedi from funds generated from the TV License. I felt should the smallest unit of the Ghanaian currency (Pesewa) been commonly used, he would have wished GBC not even receive a single Pesewa.

I copy these points from his Facebook post:  “Even if we are to pay for TV licences, there are at least 5 reasons why GBC mustn't receive a cedi until it fully reforms its ways and norms.

1. It (GBC) competes with the private media agencies for advertising money. Adding tax money on top of that is unfair. The decision to give a sop out of the licence money to the private industry lobby group, as a counterbalance, is a cynical tactic that only worsens the illogicality of the whole endeavour.

2. It does not respect public interest advocacy. When I used to help manage IMANI's events, GTV was the only station that refused to honour a single invitation despite detailed written explanations regarding the public interest value of those events. They refused to carry comments and cover treatments on STX, China CDB loan, China Hassan, etc. All of which became matters of topical public interest.

3. It charges for covering non-commercial events, even those of obvious news value. I have seen invoices issued by GBC to cover newsworthy events of a non-promotional and non-commercial nature. This means that GBC considers its airwaves as available to the highest bidder. To use taxpayer's money to endorse such a retrogressive notion of broadcasting is tantamount to subsidizing unethical broadcasting. This is because charging to cover an event requires that the said event be treated as an advertorial and not as news (viewers need to know that airtime has been paid for by a party connected to the subject or event being covered). GTV regularly flouted this basic ethic.

4. Unlike public broadcasting systems elsewhere, GBC is not organised properly as a Public Trust. It's governance and management are highly susceptible to government of the day influence. Though recent assertiveness of the NMC has somewhat improved the situation there remains insufficient safeguards against state influence in the appointment of board members, managers and other key functionaries.

5. GBC is no longer the primary community broadcasting medium. It's audience share across the country has shrunk to a point of near irrelevance. There is now no basis to suggest that a tax funded model is more effective in delivering any content or covering any niche that the advertising funded model cannot penetrate. GBC's own "strategic business units" probably recognises as much hence the limited investment made to date in community broadcasting and the increasing, even if also awkward, attempts to match the private stations in entertainment programming. Why should public taxes go to underwrite this lifestyle?

It is shocking that the government is allowing the controversy about the TV licence 'wahala' to go to waste. What happened to "strategic policy making"? Isn't this the right time for Government to ride on the wave of discontent to announce wide ranging reforms to public broadcasting with a view to fixing what is clearly a very broken model?”

It is clear that Mr. Simons’ IMANI scenario is just like saying the president should not develop a region because it did not vote for it. Isn’t that too personal?

We can deduce from Mr. Simons’ post that one (if not the only) way GBC could reform its norm is to have honoured IMANI’s invitation on events such as STX, China CDB loan, China Hassan, etc. This, according him, are all of which became matters of topical public interest (which Ghanaians are discussing currently).

It is axiomatic that GBC happens to be the major beneficiary of the TV License. It would, however, be very hypocritical of Ghanaians to downplay the relevance of funds generated from the TV License; It transcends funding, largely, the oldest media house in the country.

Even though many arguments have been raised about whether funding of the GBC by government is not enough, we should not forget that Ghanaians are the most powerful, though invisible, arm of government but not Nigerians, Mexicans or Indians. Even if elected government is to pay for the TV License for us, let us not forget that “He who pays the piper, call for the tune” (https://www.tvlicence.com.gh/qna.php ). And, government has for almost two decades been calling for the tune on (G)TV content ever since Ghanaians stopped paying the TV License somewhere around 1999.

One thing about the one who calls the tune is that, he ensures it goes with the dance steps of no other person than himself. And, if you are among the few who have similar dance step, you enjoy too. This, however, has not been the case of the viewers of GBC.

Let us not forget that ever since the TV License fees collection took a long pause, those who continued funding the GBC were the periodically elected government. And we all know that one of the ways government brings an institution under its subtle control is by stifling their budget or funding.

The only way we can have our share of say is to use the alternative means of funding which we once used about two decades ago—the TV License. Don’t forget that the world's oldest national broadcasting organization, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which almost all broadcasting organizations emulate, is still being funded through the TV License fees.

This is charged to all British households, companies, and organizations using any type of equipment to receive or record live television broadcasts has helped in making the BBC since its establishment to what it has always been till today. The BBC is a corporation incorporated under Royal Charter granted by the Queen under the Royal Prerogative and currently came into force on 1 January 2017 and runs until 31 December 2027.

This explicitly recognises the BBC's editorial independence and sets out the Corporation's public purposes and sets out the BBC’s public obligations and funding arrangements by mandating the BBC to collect the TV Licence— (http://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/about/foi-about-tv-licensing-AB15 ). 

This is not entirely  different from the Ghana legislation which says the “TV licensing Act 1966 (NLCD 89) as amended, directs that a “a person shall not install or use a Television receiving set unless there is an existence in relation to that set a valid television receiving set license by the licensing authority under this Act.” Section 1.

As a young boy in the 1990s, I realized we exuded a more Ghanaian identity irrespective of our diverse culture or ethnic background. We have done it before and Television content made a clear cultural sense.  That, however, cannot be said now.

Ghanaians nowadays only exhibit their cultural identities through dropping of their first (foreign) names and put on Friday (African) wear. We tend to focus on surface identity and throw away every form of knowledge about our culture in terms of language, festival and lore (history). Who told us history and lore more than the GBC in terms of program content?

Whether to entertain us from BY THE FIRESIDE to SHOWCASE (IN AKAN, GA, EWE, HAUSA, DANGBANI etc), or to inform us through NEWS or THIS WEEK, the GBC programs were carefully tailored with a touch of culture irrespective of the diverse demographic and psychographic factors. The Ghanaian was well informed about his or her diverse culture without necessarily leaning from classrooms or visiting respective rural areas.

Nowadays, the program content of the new Ghanaian have been operationally defined on TV screens: Entertainment is redefined as “foolishness”; Love is redefined as pornography and Ghanaian culture have been raped by foreign ones. How long would we pretend and overlook how appalling our TV screens have become lately? The influx of Asian and Latin American telenovelas exacerbates the current situation of the Ghanaian culture since these programs generate more income from sponsorship and advertisement.

The new Ghanaian gets lost gradually on what actually entails our culture and other independent broadcasters have overlooked all these cultural details since they do not generate more profit.
It should ring a bell for you that this never happened when GBC was GBC two decades ago. And what made GBC GBC was when citizens were committed to paying their TV License fees. GBC was better when my father and other existing septuagenarians were paying their TV License fees for their respective household, though not many, at that time.

They say sleep is the cousin of death. The difference is that the former is temporary while the other is permanent. While we have the ability of waking up or being woken, the latter needs divine abilities to resurrect or be resurrected.

GBC was asleep but not dead. This has been a long sleep induced by the attitude of most Ghanaians on payment of TV License Fees. Doesn’t one get hungry after waking up? This is enough reason to pay the TV License Fees.

Source: Elorm Dogbo

About the Writer

Elorm is an experienced Customer Specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the food production industry. Skilled in Advertising, News Writing, Propaganda, Business Process Improvement, and Business Ethics. Strong support professional with a Communications Studies focused in Public Relations/Image Management from Ghana Institute of Journalism (G.I.J).

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I am a Creative Arts Writer who is also into Strategic Communications, Public Relations, Photography and IT consultancy. I am also Social media enthusiast and an alumni of the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ).

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